Final Round

Dr. Peter TakacsDr. Peter Takács

Oberlin Conservatory

Hailed by the New York Times as “a marvelous pianist,” Peter Takács has performed widely, receiving critical and audience acclaim for his penetrating and communicative musical interpretations. Takács was born in Bucharest, Romania, and started his musical studies before his fourth birthday. After his debut recital at age 7, he was a frequent recitalist in his native city until his parents’ request for immigration to the West, at which point all his studies and performances were banned. He continued studying clandestinely with his piano teacher until his family was finally allowed to immigrate to France, where, at age 14, he was admitted to the Conservatoire de Paris.

Upon Takács’ arrival in the United States, his outstanding musical talents continued to be recognized with full scholarships to Northwestern University and the University of Illinois, and a three-year fellowship for doctoral studies at the Peabody Conservatory, where he completed his artistic training with renowned pianist Leon Fleisher.

Takács has performed as guest soloist with major orchestras in the U.S. and abroad, as well as at important summer festivals such as Tanglewood, Music Mountain, Chautauqua Institution, ARIA International, Schlern Music Festival in the Italian Alps, Tel Hai International Master Classes in Israel, and Sweden’s Helsingborg Festival. Since 2008, he has been a member of the faculty at the Montecito Summer Music Festival in Santa Barbara, California. He has performed and recorded the cycle of 32 Beethoven piano sonatas, which were released on the Cambria label to critical acclaim in 2011.

Takács’ success as a teacher is attested to by the accomplishments of his students, who have won top prizes in competitions in the United States, Canada, Europe, and South Africa. They have been accepted at major graduate schools such as the Curtis Institute, Juilliard School, and Peabody Conservatory, among many others. Takács has given master classes in the U.S., Europe, and Asia, and has been a jury member at prestigious national and international competitions such as the San Antonio International Keyboard Competition, the Canadian National Competition, the Cleveland International Piano Competition, and the Hilton Head International Piano Competition. He has taught piano at Oberlin since 1976.

Dr. Jose Ramon MendezDr. Jose Ramon Mendez

Northwestern University

Described as "an artist with a polished sound and tremendous constructive power" and hailed by the Hoja del Lunes de Madrid, as "the Spanish pianist of his generation," Jose Ramon Mendez is one of the most exciting Spanish pianists of today.

Recent performances include Chopin's first piano concerto with the Cuban National Symphony Orchestra and Manuel de Falla's "Nights in the Gardens of Spain" with the Nittany Valley Symphony, as well as numerous solo and chamber music performances in the United States, Europe, and Asia. His playing has been featured on WQXR's "Performance Today" and on Classical KMFA. He has been a guest performer at many music festivals, including Caramoor Festival, Barge Music Series, Festival Internacional de Piano de las Islas Canarias, Music at Penns Woods, Amalfi Coast International Music Festival, "Tocando el Cielo," Musica en Compostela, the Stony Brook International Piano Festival, and the Santander International Music Festival to name a few. As a chamber musician, Mendez has collaborated with such distinguished artists as Karl Leister, Itzhak Perlman, Michael Tree, Pascual Martinez-Nieto, and Pinchas Zukerman.

Mendez received his first music instruction from his father and by the age of seven was already performing on Spanish television and radio stations. He made his solo debut at the age of eleven at the Oviedo Philharmonic Society in Oviedo, Spain, the youngest performer ever to do so in the history of the society. He first gained international recognition when he performed Liszt's first piano concerto under the direction of Sergiu Commissiona at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. Since then, he has concertized extensively in his native Spain, the United States, Italy, England, Portugal, Holland, and Japan to great acclaim. With his poetry, intellect, and masterful technique, he has been praised by critics and celebrated by audiences around the world.

At the age of 18, Mendez's success brought him to the United States, where he began his studies at Manhattan School of Music in New York City. He completed his Bachelors and Masters Degrees in piano performance with renowned pedagogue Solomon Mikowsky and went on to finish his Doctorate of Musical Arts under the tutelage of Byron Janis and Miyoko Lotto. During his stay in New York, he won top prizes in many international competitions, including Pilar Bayona International Piano Competition, Hilton Head Island International Piano Competition, Frederick Chopin Competition in New York, and Hermanos Guerrero International Piano Competition, among others.

Mendez's professional teaching career began in 1996, when he was invited to teach master classes at the Gijon School of Music. Since then, he has given master classes in numerous cities in Spain, including Lugo, Aviles, Valencia, Gijon, Oviedo, Santiago de Compostela, and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, as well as in the United States at top music schools such as Oberlin Conservatory, Northwestern University, University of Michigan, and Columbus State University. Mendez also taught as assistant teacher to Miyoko Lotto at the Perlman Music Program, a program for gifted young musicians founded by the world famous violinist Itzhak Perlman. Currently in the summers, he is the Artistic Director and on the faculty of the Gijon International Piano Festival in Gijon, Spain, as well as frequently being invited to perform and teach at various festivals.

Dr. Jason KwakDr. Jason Kwak

Texas State University

Pianist Jason Kwak has already enjoyed a successful career, both as an artist and as a pedagogue. Born in Seoul, South Korea, Dr. Kwak began his piano studies at the age of four. He has earned his degrees in Piano Performance from Eastman School of Music and The University of Texas at Austin. His principal piano teachers include David Watkins, Douglass Weeks, Barry Snyder, and Nancy Garrett. Dr. Kwak is currently a Professor of Piano and Keyboard Area Coordinator at Texas State University. Previously, he has held teaching positions at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, The University of Texas at Austin, The University of Texas Extension Program, and the Austin Chamber Music Center. He is consistently in high demand for performances, masterclasses, lectures, and adjudications on a state, national, and international level.

Dr. Kwak has received top prize in many piano competitions including the Atlanta Steinway Society Competition, Handok Piano Competition, Southern Keyboard Competition, Atlanta Music Club, and the Clara Wells Piano Competition. He has made numerous national and international appearances as a solo pianist including performances with the Victoria Symphony, Jeju Philharmonic Orchestra, Daegu Symphony Orchestra, The University of Texas Wind Ensemble, Texas A&M University-Kingsville Wind Symphony, The Busan Philharmonic Orchestra, Gangnam Symphony Orchestra, Rocky Ridge Orchestra, Amherst Symphony Orchestra and the Round Rock Symphony. Recent international engagements have taken Dr. Kwak all over the world, including stops in England, Turkey, Germany, Malaysia, Taiwan, Costa Rica, Italy, Brazil, Bulgaria, Norway, Colombia, Mexico, China, and South Korea

Dr. Kwak has also given solo performances in many notable venues and festivals, including performances at Seoul Arts Center, San Antonio Convention Center, Jeju National Museum, Bundy Arts Center, Daegu Culture Center, Museu de Arte Moderna (Brazil), and Fox Theatre in Atlanta as well as solo performances in over 30 U.S. and International College campuses. An avid chamber musician, Dr. Kwak has collaborated with many internationally renowned artists. In 2008, Dr. Kwak, along with Dr. Ian Davidson and Professor Daris Hale, formed ‘Trio 488’, a chamber group comprised of applied music faculty at Texas State University. With goals to promote and commission new music, Trio 488 has already performed at the College Music Society International Conference, International Double Reed Society Conference, Bear Valley Music Festival, NACUSA International Conference, RioWinds Festival, and at the Mysterium of Modern Music Concert along with several performances in various concert series.

Preliminary Judges

Spencer MyerSpencer Myer

Longy School of Music

Spencer Myer is an award-winning American pianist who has performed extensively worldwide.

Lauded for “superb playing” and “poised, alert musicianship” by the Boston Globe, and labeled “definitely a man to watch” by London’s The Independent, Myer is one of the most respected and sought-after artists on today’s concert stage.

Spencer Myer has been soloist with The Cleveland Orchestra, the Johannesburg, Cape Town, Boise, Dayton, and Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestras, Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra of Boston, the Baton Rouge, Indianapolis, Knoxville, New Haven, Phoenix, Santa Fe, Springfield, Traverse, and Tucson Symphony Orchestras, Mexico’s Orquesta Filarmónica de Jalisco, and Beijing’s China National Symphony Orchestra, collaborating with, among others, conductors Michael Christie, Nicholas Cleobury, Leslie B. Dunner, Robert Franz, Bernhard Gueller, Jacques Lacombe, Jahja Ling, Timothy Muffitt, Maurice Peress, Kevin Rhodes, Lucas Richman, Klauspeter Seibel, Steven Smith, Arjan Tien, Thomas Wilkins, and Victor Yampolsky. His 2005 recital/orchestral tour of South Africa included a performance of the five piano concerti of Beethoven with the Chamber Orchestra of South Africa, followed by five return orchestra and recital tours. His appearances have been presented in New York City’s Weill Recital Hall and Merkin Recital Hall, Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center, and London’s Wigmore Hall, and have been broadcast on WQXR (New York City), WHYY (Philadelphia), WCLV (Cleveland), and WFMT (Chicago).

An in-demand chamber musician, Myer has appeared for three consecutive three summers at the Lev Aronson Legacy Festival in Dallas with cellists Lynn Harrell, Ralph Kirshbaum, Amit Peled, and Brian Thornton, and has enjoyed a recurring partnership with the Miami String Quartet at the Kent/Blossom Music Festival. Other artistic partners include clarinetist David Shifrin, the Jupiter, Manhattan and Pacifica string quartets, and the Dorian Wind Quintet. Festival appearances have included those of the Bard, Blossom, Cape Cod Chamber, Colorado, Ravinia, and Skaneateles Music Festivals, Canada’s Concerts aux Iles du Bic, Spain’s Gijon International Piano Festival, and Indonesia’s Yogyakarta International Music Festival.

His particular affinity for vocal collaboration has led to rich and varied career in song recital, since winning the 2000 Marilyn Horne Foundation Competition. Myer has appeared with Cardiff Singer of the World winner Nicole Cabell on the Cal Performances series in Berkeley and the Vocal Recital Series of Toronto’s Roy Thompson Hall. His collaboration with Martha Guth in the 2007 Wigmore Hall International Song Competition led to her First Prize win.He has appeared on New York’s “The Song Continues” series in Zankel Hall and the Juilliard Theater, the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, and New York’s Casement Fund and Five Boroughs series. He is featured in a performance of Ravel’s Chansons madécasses—with soprano Ellie Dehn—on Intimate Masterpieces, a 2013 recording featuring faculty and alumni of the Oberlin Conservatory and issued by Oberlin Music.

Spencer Myer’s career was launched with three important prizes: First Prize in the 2004 UNISA International Piano Competition in South Africa, the 2006 Christel DeHaan Classical Fellowship from the American Pianists Association, and the Gold Medal from the 2008 New Orleans International Piano Competition. He is also a laureate of the 2007 William Kapell, 2005 Cleveland, and 2005 Busoni international piano competitions. He was a member of Astral Artists’ performance roster from 2003-2010.

As an educator, he has been a frequent guest artist at workshops for students and teachers, including the 2013 National Conference of the Music Teachers National Association, where he was the Convention Artist. He has served on the faculties of the Baldwin-Wallace University and Oberlin College Conservatories of Music. He holds a Bachelor of Music degree from the Oberlin Conservatory, a Master of Music from The Juilliard School, and a Doctor of Musical Arts from Stony Brook University.

His debut CD for harmonia mundi usa—solo music of Busoni, Copland, Debussy and Kohs—was released in the fall of 2007 to critical acclaim by Fanfare and Gramophonemagazines. He can also be heard on a composer-conducted Naxos CD in performances of three concerti from Huang Ruo’s Chamber Concerto Cycle. His most recent recording, Bolcom: Piano Rags, released in January of 2017 by the Steinway & Sons label, has been received with notable praise. The American Record Guide referred to Myer’s talent as “truly outstanding; his dynamics, phrasing, and use of rubato are all well considered, and he’s sensitive to every compositional and structural detail. His tone is gloriously warm and burnished, and the acoustics flatter him with their evenness and clarity; the piano is represented perfectly.” The Stereophile also deems that “Myer’s delightful takes on Bolcom’s rags dispel any notion that the rag is a predictable but ultimately limited art form.”


Dr. Andrew StaupeDr. Andrew Staupe

University of Houston

Pianist Andrew Staupe is emerging as one of the distinctive voices of a new generation of pianists. Andrew has appeared as soloist with many of the top orchestras throughout the world, including the Baltimore Symphony, San Diego Symphony, Houston Symphony, Minnesota Orchestra, Fort Worth Symphony, Indianapolis Symphony, the George Enescu Philharmonic in Romania, the Orquestra Filarmónica de Bogotá in Colombia, and many others. He has collaborated with distinguished conductors Osmo Vänskä, Cristian Macelaru, Jahja Ling, Gerard Schwarz, Andrew Litton, Lucas Richman, Josep-Caballe Domenech, and Philip Mann. Andrew has performed recitals across the United States and extensively in Europe, appearing in distinguished concert venues including the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Rachmaninov Hall in Moscow, the Schumann Haus in Leipzig, and the Salle Cortot in Paris.

An avid chamber musician, Andrew has jammed with legendary vocalist Bobby McFerrin, played Tangos with the Assad Brothers, and has collaborated with numerous other distinguished instrumentalists and singers. He recently recorded his debut CD with violinist Hasse Borup for the Naxos label in Copenhagen which will be released in 2020. Andrew has a keen interest in performing new music and has collaborated with composers Howard Shore, Augusta Read Thomas, Yehudi Wyner, Sarah Kirkland Snider, Pierre Jalbert, Richard Lavenda, and Christopher Walczak among others. Other notable performances include concerts at Carnegie Hall and Steinway Hall in New York, and the Kennedy Center and Library of Congress in Washington DC. He has been heard twice on American Public Media’s “Performance Today,” and on Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion” in 2004. 

Deeply committed to teaching, Andrew is an Assistant Professor of Piano at the University of Houston, and formerly taught at the University of Utah. He is Artistic Director of the Young Artist World Piano Festival in Minnesota, and gives frequent master classes and lectures around the United States. A native of Saint Paul, Minnesota, he earned his Doctorate at Rice University with Jon Kimura Parker, and also studied at the University of Minnesota with Lydia Artymiw.

Dr. Eva PolgarDr. Éva Polgár

Azusa Pacific University

Éva Polgár’s artistry is characterized by clarity, conviction, and virtuosity. Critiques praise her for her “intelligent interpretation” (Funzine Magazine), capability of “fully entering into the spirit of narrating a story” (Arkivmusic), and “vibrant technique” (American Hungarian Journal). Her dedication to her native Hungarian culture resulted in researching Béla Bartók’s piano arrangements of his original orchestral compositions and specializing in Franz Liszt’s music. Her Liszt interpretation was praised by Liszt scholar Alan Walker as “A stunning performance! A real artist!” and she was featured at Zankel Hall, Carnegie Hall in New York City, the Hungarian Culture Centre in London, and the Liszt Ferenc Museum and Research Center in Budapest. Dr. Polgár’s concerto performances include concerts with conductors Tamás Vásáry at the Budapest Danube Palace and Horst Förster at the Leipzig Gewandhaus. In the realm of cross-disciplinary endeavors, she collaborates extensively with visual artist Sándor Vály. Their experimental music albums released under Ektro Records have been broadcast by the Finnish Radio.

Dr. Polgár has won top prizes in competitions including the Los Angeles International Liszt Competition (LAILC). She is a co-director of LAILC, which empowers her to foster young musicians at their early stage of professional career. A committed educator and adjudicator, she has appeared at masterclasses, festivals, and competitions such as LAILC, the Bogotá International Piano Festival in Columbia, Tulsa University Summer Piano Academy in Oklahoma, Florida International University in Miami, Florida, Montclair State University in New Jersey, and many more.

A graduate of the Franz Liszt Academy of Music and Sibelius Academy, Dr. Polgár has earned her Doctor of Musical Arts degree in piano performance at the University of North Texas. Before joining the piano faculty at Azusa Pacific University, she taught at Texas Woman’s University and at the University of North Texas.